Friday, December 8, 2023

Three Interesting Bills of the Week: Menstrual Health Data, Spying and K-9s in Schools

The Virginia General Assembly convened for its 2023 session in Richmond Jan. 11, 2023. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)

RICHMOND — Hundreds of bills are filed for General Assembly consideration each year. In this occasional series, the Virginia Mercury takes a look at a few of the proposals that might not otherwise make headlines during the whirlwind legislative session.

Senate Bill 852: Prohibiting search warrants for menstrual health data

This legislation by Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, would prohibit the issuance of a search warrant for information related to menstrual health data stored in electronic devices.

Current law allows search warrants to be issued for access to all data stored on a computer, computer network or other device containing electronic or digital information as long as probable cause for a crime has been established.

“I’m attempting to protect the most private data that an individual has,” said Favola during a subcommittee hearing. “And that’s related to menstrual health.”

Opposition came from Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, who asked Favola during the hearing about circumstances involving the death of a newborn child or someone who denies giving birth to a child. Inquiries into those circumstances may require a search warrant for menstrual data, he said.

“What information could you possibly get from someone’s menstrual data if they’re tracking their period on their personal device that would be relevant?” responded Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond. “None is the answer.”

If medical information is needed, McClellan said, there are ways to get it from the person’s medical records.

Menstrual data would also be unreliable to use in a legal sense, said Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, because menstruation is not always predictable or consistent.

Senate lawmakers voted 31-9 to pass the bill earlier this week, with bipartisan support from seven Republicans.

The bill now heads to the House Courts of Justice Committee.

House Bill 1583: Penalty for peeping or spying into an enclosure from off the property

HB 1583 from Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Arlington, would prohibit people from secretly peeping or spying through a window, door or any other part of an occupied enclosure or property in a way that would violate the occupant’s reasonable expectation of privacy. The bill also prohibits any person from using an electronic device to do the same.

Under current law, these acts are prohibited only when the person or electronic device physically enters someone else’s property.

Sullivan said he became aware of the issue when a local prosecutor in his area complained that he couldn’t prosecute people for spying on someone if the peeper was outside the boundaries of the person’s property.

That could occur, said Sullivan, when the peeper was using “a telescope or set of binoculars.”

House lawmakers unanimously voted to pass the bill in late January. It is now waiting to be heard by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

House Bill 1556: K-9 detection teams in public schools

This bill from Del. Emily Brewer, R-Isle of Wight, would allow school boards to employ K-9 detection teams in public schools in a part- or full-time capacity.

The legislation would also establish a K-9 Detection Team Grant Program and Fund, which would award matching grants to local law enforcement agencies and school boards that enter into an agreement to employ a K-9 detection team.

A K-9 detection team is defined as a dog and a dog handler who are trained specifically to detect items like firearms, explosives and nicotine vapor products.

Teams used in schools would have to be approved by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

The bill now heads to the Senate Committee on Education and Health after passing the House with a vote of 65-35.

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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